Ankle injuries can occur suddenly, and they’re not just reserved for those who are active or play sports! Something as simple as stepping off the curb and landing in the wrong way may lead to an ankle sprain.
In fact, in the US, there are close to 25,000 ankle sprain injuries daily! It’s worth learning how to massage ankle sprain injuries at home so that if it does happen to you, you can get a head start on your healing and recovery.
Let’s have a look at what ankle sprains are, how massage can help them heal, and a few massage techniques that can be helpful.
What Is An Ankle Sprain?
Ankle sprains are common injuries that occur when the soft tissue supporting your ankle is stretched beyond its limits or torn.
Even though you have strong ligaments in your ankle that help to stabilize the joint, it only takes a simple misstep where you twist, turn, or roll your ankle awkwardly.
This puts excessive strain on the ligaments, as they’re stretched beyond their normal range of motion, trying to prevent excessive movement.
The severity of the sprain will depend on the number of ligaments involved and the degree to which the ligaments are stretched or torn.
The Three Types of Ankle Sprains
Your doctor will assess your sprained ankle based on the severity of the ligament damage, grade the injury, and develop a treatment plan based on that.
Mild Sprain (Grade 1)
With a mild sprain, the ligaments have stretched slightly more than they’re used to, and there’s microscopic tearing of the ligament fibers.
You’ll most likely experience some tenderness, bruising, swelling, and stiffness. Your ankle will still feel stable, and you shouldn’t have any pain when you place your weight on the affected leg.
Moderate Sprain (Grade 2)
A grade 2 sprain is when the ligament or ligaments are partially torn—50 percent of the ligament is torn—and it causes your ankle to feel slightly unstable. You’ll find it difficult to move your ankle, it will be tender to the touch, and there will be bruising around the ankle bone.
There will also be swelling around the ankle, and you’ll experience mild pain when you put any weight on the affected leg.
Severe Sprain (Grade 3)
Grade 3 sprains are the most severe, as one or more ligaments have completely torn. The surrounding area will be extremely tender, with significant swelling. Your ankle will be very painful, and you won’t be able to move it.
With a grade 3 sprain, you’ll also experience substantial ankle instability or a feeling that your ankle is “giving way,” making walking more difficult.
Symptoms of a sprained ankle will vary depending on the severity of the injury. They may include the following:
- Pain that may cause throbbing
- Redness and warmth
- Tenderness to the touch
- Swelling and bruising around the ankle
- Restricted range of motion
- Instability, where the joint feels weak or like it’s going to give out
How Long Will It Take To Heal?
The healing time for an ankle sprain will depend on the severity of your sprain. For example, a mild sprain could take between 1 and 3 weeks to heal with conservative treatment.
A moderate ankle sprain—grade 2—can take between 3 and 6 weeks to heal, while a severe sprain can take up to 6 months to heal. This is because ligaments have limited blood flow compared to the bone, which has better access to oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood.
Should You Massage An Ankle Sprain?
Massaging your sprained ankle is a great way to increase blood flow to the affected area, and it can help ease the pain. Increasing the blood flow brings nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the area, promoting healing.
As well as speeding up healing, if you massage ankle sprain injuries, it will help to reduce swelling, relieve tension in the surrounding muscles, and prevent scar tissue from developing.
Do’s and Don’ts When Massaging An Ankle Sprain
When you massage your ankle sprain, you want to ensure it feels good. To help you get the most out of your massage, keep the following in mind:
Do Wait 24 to 72 Hours
For the first 24 to 72 hours, avoid placing direct pressure on or massaging the affected ankle. During this time, your ankle is going to be going through the 3 different healing phases, which are:
- Inflammatory phase
- Proliferative phase
- Maturation or remodeling phase
During the first phase—the inflammatory phase—your ankle is still swelling, and a massage with direct pressure can cause more harm than good. However, you can use the Effleurage technique, which is light and can help with lymphatic circulation.
After 72 hours, you can apply gentle pressure with small circular frictions around the joint, which can help reduce swelling. It’s okay if it feels a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful or increase the intensity of the pain.
Do PRICE for First 24 to 72 Hours
Treat it with the PRICE principle as soon as you can after you’ve sprained your ankle. This can help minimize damage and allow your ankle to go through the healing stages.
The acronym PRICE stands for:
Protect your ankle and prevent further injury by limiting or avoiding placing weight on the affected ankle. Depending on the severity of your ankle sprain, you may need to partially immobilize the injured area by using a brace, cane, or crutches.
Rest and protect your foot as much as possible. Limit any activities that have the potential to cause you pain.
Ice your ankle as cold therapy can help to lower pain and swelling. Apply ice to the injured ankle as soon as possible to help the healing process to begin.
You should apply ice to the area for between 15 and 20 minutes, 4 to 5 times daily. Wrap the ice pack in a towel, as direct contact with the skin can cause skin damage.
Compression can increase blood flow, reduce pain and swelling, and promote healing. Use a compression bandage to wrap the sore ankle.
It’s important to note that the compression bandage should have a snug feel, but it shouldn’t be too tight. If you experience numbness, tingling, or increased pain, you should loosen it.
Elevating the foot while sitting or lying down will help reduce the swelling and is also an excellent time to apply ice. You can use pillows, so your foot is above your heart level.
After 72 hours, you can begin with a deeper massage on the ankle. However, if it causes, then you should stop immediately.
Do Start Lightly and Gently
Within the first 24 to 72 hours, you’ll be able to do the Effleurage massage. After the 3rd day, massage your ankle with a light touch and gradually increase the pressure you apply. The massage should feel good, but it shouldn’t increase your pain level.
You may also find that massaging the bottom of the foot or heel gently will help provide further relief.
Don’t Keep Massaging If It’s Painful
You can expect slight discomfort when massaging, especially if you’ve increased the pressure. But it shouldn’t cause the intensity of the pain to increase.
If the intensity increases, reduce the amount of pressure you’re applying. If it continues to be painful, then stop massaging the ankle.
Massages To Treat an Ankle Sprain At Home
This massage technique uses long, gentle strokes just above the injury site to improve blood flow and reduce swelling. It helps move the fluid that’s accumulated within and around the tissue through the lymphatic system.
How to Perform This Massage
You should perform this massage on the calf muscle, going into the ankle. You should use the flat palm of your hand to apply pressure while holding your hand in a shape that molds to the leg.
Stroke upwards from the ankle towards the heart. Then, stroke downwards along the same line. You should apply slightly more pressure on the upward stroke and slightly less pressure on the downward stroke.
Your speed should remain steady on both the upward and downward strokes. Massage the calf muscle and around each side of the affected leg. You can also do the front of the leg if you like.
The pressure should not cause any increase in pain. If it does, you may want to wait for another 12 to 24 hours to see if it’s improved.
Cross Friction Massage
This massage should only be done 72 hours after the injury. It helps to break up any existing scar tissue and prevent new scar tissue from forming.
It should be done in the ankle area that has been injured but can also be done to the calf and shin muscles—along the ligament—if you feel the need.
- The massage therapist will apply direct pressure backward and forwards using a single finger across the ligament.
How to Perform This Massage
This massage may be easier for someone else to do on you instead of doing it yourself. Your foot should be stretched out so that the ligaments are stretched.
Start at a point a bit away from the injury. Using just one finger, apply firm, direct pressure to the ligament. You should use the flat part of your finger.
It’s important that you rub across the ligament, not up and down. You should feel the ligament move lightly underneath your finger as you rub over it. This helps to break up scar tissue and stimulate collagen fiber growth and realignment.
Using this rubbing movement, make your way down the ligament until you get close to the injury site. Then work your way back up. You can increase the pressure as much as possible within the limits of your pain levels.
Massage for 5 to 10 minutes only. It’s advisable to tape the ankle or use a brace in between to keep the joint stable.
You should do this massage every second day, not every day. If the swelling hasn’t subsided or if it increases, stop and wait for it to go down before attempting this massage again.
It’s also best to do this massage without any kind of lubrication, as you may not be able to apply enough pressure if your hands are too slick.
Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Lymphatic fluid can build up in injured areas as this fluid transports white blood cells to the area for healing. A lymphatic drainage massage uses light pressure to get this fluid moving through the lymphatic system and helps to drain fluid out of the tissues.
How to Perform This Massage
Although this massage is to help heal the ankle, it’s a good idea to first do some preparation on the lymph nodes behind the knee. This will prepare them to absorb fluid as you massage the lower leg.
Put your hands behind your knee and make a “pumping” motion on the back of the knee. This will be in a J-shape, from underneath the knee joint to above it, just underneath the lower thigh. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Then place one hand around the front of your leg, just below the knee. Place the other hand on the back of the leg in the same place. Gently lift the skin and tissue of your leg upwards towards the knee, hold it for a second or two, and then slowly release it.
Move your hands downwards a little and do the same further down. You should do this 4 to 5 times in various places on the leg before reaching the ankle. Then go back to the top and repeat it 10 to 15 times.
Once you’re finished with the leg, move to the ankle and do the same movements on the ankle and foot.
If your toes are swollen, you can make a similar motion using two fingers on the base of each toe, pulling it lightly upwards towards your foot.
When to See a Doctor For An Ankle Injury
It can help to massage ankle sprain injuries, but in severe cases, you should seek the help of a medical professional. Make an appointment with your doctor or visit the ER if:
- You can’t place weight on the foot without feeling pain
- The swelling is significant and doesn’t go down after a day or two
- Your range of motion is impaired, and movement causes you pain
- You’re unable to touch your foot without pain after a few days
- There’s popping, clicking, cracking, or grinding in your ankle joint